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The History of
Washington, Missouri

Table of Contents



The vast territory that lay west of the Mississippi River was claimed for France by La Salle, who named it "Louisiana," in honor of his King.  It was ceded to Spain and back to France again before it was purchased by the United States in 1803.

French soldiers and priests explored this region at a very early date.  Trading posts were established at St. Louis and St. Charles, and trappers and hunters ventured into the deep wilderness.  Many of the streams along the Missouri River still bear the old French names, such as Femme Osage, Du Bois, Bourbeuse, and Boeuf.

The French made few settlements in Louisiana, but the Spanish authorities encouraged migration from the American colonies.  Grants of land were offered to all who could prove they had made clearings and declared their intention of becoming bona fide settlers. 

Thus began the great Kentucky-Virginia-Tennessee migration up the valley of the Missouri River.  They came on horseback and afoot.  Some built flat boats and keel boats and toiled laboriously up the river.  Others followed the trail that led from St. Louis and pushed past the frontier at St. Charles, to make their homes in the wilderness.  Attracted by the fertile bottom land, most of these pioneers located near the north bank of the Missouri River. 

This migration was accelerated by the example of the great Daniel Boone, who came to Missouri in 1795, and took up a claim near Femme Osage creek, in St. Charles county.  A few years later he signed an agreement with the Spanish authorities to bring one hundred families from Kentucky and Virginia to Upper Louisiana.   Soon there was a thriving community around the Femme Osage, and in 1800, Colonel Boone was appointed commandant of the district.  Daniel Boone frequently crossed the Missouri River on hunting trips, but was never a resident of Franklin County.

The territory south of the Missouri River was more sparsely settled at that time, for land in this region was less accessible and desirable.  The more fertile northern banks, however, were open to attack from Indians.  Forts were constructed, but many families crossed the river and located on Tavern, Du Bois, St. John's , and Boeuf creeks, and at Point Labbadie.

The earliest record of a settlement in Franklin County is that William Hughes  located on Du Bois creek, not far from Washington, in 1794, and this was the extreme frontier at that time.  John Long, a Revolutionary war veteran, claimed 5,000 arpents along Du Bois creek on a concession from Trudeau, and additional large tracts of land along St. John's creek.  A small part of his grant is now included in the City of Washington, and this is the first recorded settlement at the townsite.  John Sullins was living at Du Bois in 1799, but moved near Boeuf creek in 1800, and this grant is a part of the farm of Ben Bailey, his direct descendant.

Kinkaid Caldwell located near St. John's creek in 1803, and Mosias Maupin and Hartley Sappington were in that neighborhood in 1806.  Other early settlers there and around New Port were Philip Miller, Caleb Bailey, James McDaniel, Daniel and Gideon Richardson, Benjamin Brown, Isiah Todd, Isaac Murphy, Jessie McDonald, and John Colter, the famous Indian Scout and explorer.  Colter had been a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition and was credited with the discovery of Yellowstone Park.

Most of these pioneers played a very active part in the early history of Franklin county.

Another very early settlement was at Point Labbadie, which was located east of the present town of Gray's summit.  Among the pioneers in this neighborhood were Dan, John and Joseph McCoy; Henry, Adam and Jacob Zumwalt; John Day, George Pursley, John Ridenhour, Peter Pritchett, William Fullerton and Ambrose Boles.   Later on the Groff, North, Ming, Coleman, Wood, Brown, and Jeffries families located here also.  Another noted Indian fighter, "Wild Irish" Robert Frazier, was a settler here.  He, too, had been with the Lewis and Clark expedition.

In 1803, John Ridenhour was killed by Indians near Point Labbadie.  the settlement was broken up because of Indian attacks at this time, but was re-established the following fall.  There were Indian tribes when the first settlers came, but they were for the most part peaceful and friendly.

There must have been a very large Indian population in this region at one time, however, for thousands of arrowheads have been found, and they are especially numerous in the New Port region.  The Indians often forded the river near the old Maupin farm, a few miles above Washington, and frequently camped there.   Another crossing was on the Achilles Jeffries farm, near a Labadie.

It is interesting to note that the early surveys of the county made use of the old Indian trails, and speak of following the "Trace that leads east to St. Louis," and of the one that led from the "Shawney village on the Burbis River to the Gasconade."

"Shawneytown" was the name given to the Indian village situated in the valley of the Bourbeuse, near the farm of Anderson Coleman.   Later it was moved near Prairie Church, and finally the Indians left for the better hunting grounds of the west.


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Music:  Bard Dance by Enya.





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